Lionsgate // 2008 // 83 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // February 15th, 2011
No Matter What Happens, Stay On The Train.
With a synopsis that hints at a melding of Judgment Night and Creep, the latest title from the Ghost House Underground imprint looks to be a perfect Friday night movie. With a patchy output to say the least, is Stag Night -- originally released back in 2008 -- going to be the rare Ghost House release to hit the mark?
Four friends, heading out on a stag night, are forced off their train when one of them, Tony (Breckin Meyer, Road Trip), begins hassling two female travelers. Stranded at a seemingly deserted underground station, the group set out to find their way back to the surface, but quickly find themselves running for their lives when a group of savage tunnel dwellers start hunting them down.
With only hours till dawn, Mike (Kip Pardue, The Rules of Attraction), Carl (Scott Adkins, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Joe, Michelle, and Brita (Vinessa Shaw, The Hills Have Eyes) are forced to endure a night of terror.
Having written the Jodie Foster starring yawn-fest Flightplan, Peter A. Dowling took the director's reigns for his next feature, the DVD we find ourselves discussing today, Stag Night. Eschewing the narrative twists and turns of his previous work, Stag Night sees Dowling opt for a straightforward horror, one that possesses just about enough of an identity to make it worthy of consideration for fans of the genre.
At a mere 83 minutes long, Stag Night wastes no time in getting down to brass tacks. Before you can shout "he's behind you," Dowling has started racking up the body count, whilst throwing in a little unnecessary (though not entirely unwelcome) female nudity. Rather than take the time to properly introduce us to the characters, Stag Night is more interested in getting to the good stuff, which sees what little character development there is sandwiched between scenes of running and killing. To be honest, the characters are genre stereotypes anyway -- and as such their life expectancy should be clear to most horror aficionados from the off -- and Dowling's screenplay never has pretensions of being anything particularly clever. This is a film focused on the visceral thrill of the chase. On that level alone, the movie is reasonably successful.
It's to Dowling's credit that Stag Night continues to entertain despite having said everything it has to say by the half-hour mark. It becomes evident early on that the film is simply recycling itself, with one chase being a slight variation on the last, but thanks to the fast pace that Dowling is able to maintain, this potentially serious flaw is easy to overlook while watching the film.
In terms of gore, Stag Night is plentiful, with scenes depicting graphic decapitations and frequent occurrences of exposed entrails. While the gore may be well realized, the vomit-inducing camera work which often accompanies it -- suggesting the cameraman may be having a seizure -- is disorienting, and lessens the impact of the violence. Thus, despite some impressive effects work, Stag Night is at its most powerful during the quieter moments that precede each attack. One scene in particular, where our group of victims must silently watch whilst one of their friends is slaughtered, is a prime example of this. The tension, coupled with the director's choice of closeups on the reaction of his leads, shows Dowling to have a good grasp of the genre, even if he still has some way to go before mastering it.
Though hampered by the paucity of their characters' -- not to mention some decidedly suspect dialogue -- the cast is solid. Much like the script nobody seems interested in offering up anything that will standout, but, like every other facet of the production, the leads play their part in ensuring that Stag Night keeps the viewer watching. Dowling's direction never really does enough to excite, but still shows a filmmaker with a good understanding of his field.
Onto the tech specs, and the 1.78:1 transfer has excellent black levels, and is sharp throughout. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack enhances the atmosphere with a suitably moody score, and is without any noticeable flaws.
In terms of extras we get a short "making of" featurette, and a few trailers.
Stag Night is at its weakest when it attempts to add some depth to its characters. The tensions that build within the group -- some of which, it is suggested, have been simmering for years -- feel wholly unnecessary, and add flab to what is otherwise a lean beast.
Almost fatal are the acts of stupidity the film makes on behalf of its characters. I mean, seriously, anyone prepared to fornicate on the floors of a subway station -- despite having just seen rats running underfoot -- is just asking for a cleaver up the rectum. Likewise, why anyone -- particularly a bloodthirsty psychopath -- would leave an axe within reach of a tied-up victim is beyond me.
Speaking of bloodthirsty psychos: there's zero development afforded to the killers. No reason or motivation is offered for their actions. They just are.
Though these annoyances continue, even increasing in number as the film progresses, Dowling does just enough to keep his film on the right track -- though nearly blows the whole deal with a predictable finale that most will see coming a mile off.
Taking its influence from a number of superior works -- and as such too predictable -- there's still enough here for fans of the genre to enjoy. There's nothing original on offer, but for a boozy Friday night, Stag Night makes for a solid rental.
It's a close call, but Stag Night does just enough to earn a not guilty verdict.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R